Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why the Pope Just Met With Dozens of Mayors About Climate Change (And Human Trafficking)

Pope Francis and mayors (Credit: AP Photo/L'Ossservatore Romano, Pool) Click to Enlarge.
As mayors from more than 60 of the world’s major cities convened on Tuesday, their reason for gathering — addressing “modern slavery and climate change” — was already somewhat unusual.  Environmental and human trafficking activists have hosted high-level talks in the past, but this conference managed to pull together leaders from some of the world’s largest population centers to discuss human rights and how to implement effective green policies at the local level — an impressive political feat.

But there was something else peculiar about the meeting:  attendees weren’t cloistered inside the well-worn atriums of the United Nations or pacing the glossy halls of the EU Parliament. Instead, they were huddled behind the ancient walls of Vatican City, where they gathered as part of a climate change-themed conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
To be fair, the location of the conference, while atypical, isn’t totally unexpected.  The gathering comes a little over a month after the release of Laudato Si’, a nearly 200-page papal encyclical from Pope Francis focused primarily on climate change issues.  Aimed at fellow believers, the document debunked conservative theological claims against protecting the environment and outlined a moral argument for why the world’s Catholics have an obligation to help protect the planet.  It was also well-received among climate scientists, who lauded its surprisingly robust engagement with peer-reviewed research.

But outside of its purported theological impact, the document’s real power came from its often unapologetically political language, which hinted at a broader agenda:  namely, a call for real-world policies that can address our changing environment.
“The [pope’s] encyclical is not a call to arms,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said in an address to the conference.  “It is a call to sanity.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who also attended the conference and who once enrolled in a Jesuit seminary, agreed.

"This intervention by the pope is appropriate and absolutely essential to wake people up to the dangers of climate change and to the value of seeing human beings as part of nature and dependent on nature as opposed to be adversaries of each other,” Brown said, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

But the gathering — and, by extension, the Pope’s greater agenda — isn’t limited to technical discussions of carbon emissions.  The framing of the conference, which is titled “Modern Slavery and Climate Change:  The Commitment of the Cities,” makes the case that climate change causes, or is inextricably connected to, a litany of other global issues such as human trafficking.

“Today we are facing two tragic emergencies that are related in different ways:  the climate change crisis and the new forms of slavery,” the conference website reads.  “As a matter of fact, global warming is one of the causes of poverty and forced migration, which are breeding grounds for human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and organ trafficking.”

Read more at Why the Pope Just Met With Dozens of Mayors About Climate Change (And Human Trafficking)

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